The Dudes float into Varanasi
The team has arrived in Varanasi! Ten days and 400km after purchasing our small tin-boat, we’ve finally rowed into the holiest of Hindu cities. The ghats—steep stone steps which lead worshipers to the Gange’s waters—continue along the banks for over three miles. It’s sensory overload as we watch families burning the bodies of their deceased loved ones in public, dhobi wallas washing clothes against stones, and people performing their bathing rituals beside them. Masonry steps climb high above the commotion and disappear into a labyrinth of narrow alleys that make up one of the oldest inhabited cities of the world.
Our boat trip came abruptly to an end when we sold our boat to the first person who made an offer. We paid 5,000 rupees (100USD) and sold for it 3,500 (70USD). We all felt pretty good about the deal and quickly spent the money on a nice hotel and some cold beer to celebrate.
Beyond a couple of rashes on JJ’s and our camera-man Dave’s feet, we are in perfect health. I don’t know how I avoided the rash. Maybe it was my insistence on not touching the water and demanding to be carried to shore… Sorry fellas.
The boat was a real contrast to the rickshaw, where it felt like we were on a parade through rural India, and we were the zoo bears. On the river we experienced a peace I didn’t know was possible here. The people we encountered— fishermen, farmers, and cow herders—cared little about a few white guys in a boat.
Josh’s now calloused hands work the bamboo oars
Everything is somehow coming together; we’re following the Ganga by any means possible and seeing India as the locals do. And the reward is huge! We are seeing a side of the river that few people know. It is surprisingly meek; giving almost all of itself to the people who worship and depend on it. Between temples and holy cities its waters are pumped for irrigation, tanneries dump their toxic waste into it, and cities dispose of their garbage and untreated sewage into the river.
Amazingly, it still supports wildlife. Besides our dozens of unexpected encounters with the endangered species, the Gangetic River Dolphin, we also saw hundreds of turtles, catfish being pulled from fishermen nets, and innumerable shorebird species finding their meals along the polluted shores. I do not know how the Ganges survives, but she does. She is a god, after all. With our rowboat sold, we are back to being “tourists”. We will be moving on in a few days, but we’re not sure how. And we like it that way…